China Expat & Travel Blogger. ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO IN CHINA. See My Fun TRAVEL Adventures in China!
I can't believe I've finally visited China's dopest mountain! And no, I'm not referring to Huangshan "Yellow Mountain" or even Zhangjiajie's "Avatar" Mountain—I've been to both of those too. I'm talking about China's Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, or most famously called, "Rainbow Mountains".
It was about several years back. I was chatting with my coworker about the many trips I had already taken across China and how next time around I wanted to explore something in the country that was out of the ordinary—you know, an attraction that was vastly unique and relatively unknown. After all, it's those types of adventures that excite me the most.
Within minutes she was on Baidu's image search engine and pulling up the most unexpected travel destination I had ever seen: Zhangye's Rainbow Mountains of Gansu Province.
At first glance I wasn't sure if the pictures were real. Heck, all of them looked photoshopped beyond imagination. Danxia Natural Geopark's orange, barren landscape was covered with long strips of red, yellow, green, white, and blue that looked too carefully crafted by some manmade machine to be a natural wonder. But it was entirely real, and it was then that I knew China's Rainbow Mountains fit the bill of that distinctive out-of-this-world landmark that I had to explore. And in just a few years later, it's exactly where I'd be.
My girlfriend and I set out for Rainbow Mountains during China's busy 2016 Dragonboat Festival holiday.
To get to there, we'd catch a flight from Shanghai to Lanzhou, then catch a train into Zhangye where the mountains were located, and finally negotiate a deal with a local taxi driver to pick us up AND drop us back at our hotel all for a measly 180RMB—an insanely good deal considering the hour long trip to and from the geopark.
The first thing I fell in love with about Zhangye was its clean air. Actually, it was the freshest air I had tasted during my 6 years in China up until my trip to Yunnan's Jade Snow Mountain in 2017, no kidding! Plus it was June, which meant the sun was out, the weather was warm, the sky was a perfect blue, and the city's landscape was riddled with lush green trees and beautiful natural scenery at every turn.
We arrived at the entrance to Zhangye Danxia Natural Geopark around 2pm. We paid 60RMB to enter and another 20RMB for shuttle bus transportation between various scenic viewing spots located inside. What's more, to our surprise the park was far from being flooded with tourists during the busy holiday, but we definitely weren't complaining!
The first stop we made was to scenic spot #1, and just as I had imagined, Rainbow Mountain’s colorful terrain was nothing short of astonishing.
Just a few meters out in front of us lied long strips of yellow, orange, and red etched into the mountain, just like I had seen in the photos several years back. Later I'd find out that the geological landscape was actually formed by a combination of sand and silt tones, iron, and minerals deposited into the area millions of years ago. How awesome is that!?
Furthermore, the colors that stretched across the mountain were extremely vivid, especially when the clouds cleared way for the sun. It wasn't just the best thing I could ask for as an avid photographer, but it also made for one hell of an experience as an ardent traveler. And it would only get better.
After awhile we hopped on a shuttle bus and arrived at scenic spot #5, which provided an even better look at the sprawling mountainscape than before.
We had an unobstructed 360-degree view of Rainbow Mountains for as far as our eyes could see, but the best part was viewing the contrast of colors between the dark and colorful patches covering the rolling hills with the thick grey clouds up above.
Scenic spot #5 was definitely my favorite in all of the geopark, but it was far from being the best to catch the mountain’s "rainbow" trails. That record belonged to scenic spot #4, which is where we landed next.
Scenic spot #4 was advertised as the best viewing spot of Zhangye Danxia National Geopark. In fact, it was so great that right out of the gate we were hit by numerous groups of tourists snapping pictures of everything in sight, including donkeys, bright orange sand, and more perfectly aligned stripes of red, yellow, and white.
The viewing area was nestled on top of a hill—all the scenic spots were actually—and once we made it to the top we had the grandest view of China's Rainbow Mountains right in front us.
And yep, those ads were right; the mountain to our 12 o'clock was just overflowing with 'rainbow' stripes up, down, and across its entire frame.
I had NEVER seen anything like it in my entire life, and I still couldn't believe it was all natural. Mother Earth sure has one heck of a paintbrush!
Furthermore, I was lucky enough to have my Canon Ixus digital pocket camera pick up all of the colors in detail. Tell me these pictures aren't absolutely incredible!
Before long we arrived at the last leg of our tour of Rainbow Mountains: scenic spot #2. Eh, there wasn't anything in particular that stood out—just more hills and more colors, but with less of the awe factor—and in just a few short minutes we hopped back on the shuttle buses, made our way to the exit, and met up with our taxi driver. Yep, he had actually been waiting for us at the exit the entire time!
And just like that we were on the road and heading back to our hotel, but the fun didn't stop there! As we sped along the highway my girlfriend and I couldn’t help but notice all the magnificent natural scenery spread out in every direction.
With that, we wound up asking our driver to make several stops along the road so we could take in the views and snap more photos, and he did so without complaint. The local people of Zhangye were just that nice!
We'd arrive back at our hotel in the evening, grab a bite to eat, hit the movies, and prep for our trip back to Lanzhou in the next day. What an incredible trip to Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, aka China's "Rainbow" Mountains!